Sudbury author Melchior Mbonimpa ‘astonished’ his 20-year-old novel picked for Combat national des livres

·3 min read

Sudbury author and professor, Melchior Mbonimpa, was quite surprised when his book was chosen as part of this year’s Combat national des livres 2021, a Francophone version of the popular Canada Reads debate series.

He was surprised because his book, Le totem des Baranda (Prise de parole 2001), was published by Prise de Parole 20 years ago.

“I was astonished, said Mbonimpa. “And not only that, but who had suggested it.”

Hosted this year (as it has been for the past three years) by Marie-Louise Arsenault, the contest is built around debate — a battle for the best book — and Mbonimpa is pleased with his representative, Tanya Lapointe. Not only is she a former long-time journalist, but she is a producer and director who’s most recent work includes the highly-anticipated Dune (2021).

She also suggested Mbonimpa’s book as her choice for the Combat.

“When they asked her to be a part of Combat national des livres, she was asked what book she would like to defend, and she chose mine. A woman like her!”

Of course, Mbonimpa is no slouch. In addition to his work as a professor, he is the celebrated author of eight books, including the most recent, Au sommet du Nanzerwé, il s’est assis et il a pleuré (Prise de Parole 2020).

“Les totem des Baranda” takes place in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa and details the life and trials of a family throughout three centuries.

“It's a region in which many kingdoms had a kind of caste system, like in India,” Mbonimpa said. “The father decided that his sons will not be part of that system, because he was in the caste of the seventh (the lowest level). And he decided that when he's dead, they will have to leave the country where they were and go and find the land where no one will be their master. They will have their land; they will be free.”

The father engages his sons in a covenant, one that cannot be broken. They are instructed to leave their home upon his death and go as far into the world as is required for ‘freedom’. The totem referenced in the title is that of the family, something that becomes an ongoing symbol of the family ties throughout the hundreds of years the family continues.

“The link is the totem, a kind of family link, which helps them to recognize each other. If you find someone with a totem, even after centuries, you will know that you have the same ancestor.”

What he hopes that readers like Lapointe and others will gain from the book is the need to fight for freedom.

“I hope that they will understand that fighting for freedom is necessary in Africa, as everywhere else. That the human being deserves the title of human being everywhere. Equality is always something worth fighting for.”

You can fight for the book by watching and voting starting May 7, with one week of debate following the opening episode. Mbonimpa would love it if you would.

“I would like to win,” he said with a laugh.

You can find Mbonimpa’s books and the new cover for “Les totem des Baranda” by visiting

Jenny Lamothe is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at She covers the Black, Indigenous, immigrant and Francophone communities.

Jenny Lamothe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,